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Workers Woes Beyond Low Wages
(Second of two parts)

Published by The Journal, May 1999

The problems besetting workers go beyond low wages, hence their demands are not just limited to wage increases. Organized labor, after all, also want job security and the protection of workers� rights.

Analyzing the January 1999 data on the labor force, it is clear that 2.8 million people are still unemployed. Some 6.3 million workers, on the other hand, are underemployed. This means that almost a quarter of the 31.2-million labor force are either working less than 40 hours per week or dissatisfied with their present job. (See Table 1)

Table 1
Labor Force Indicators
(number in thousands)


Jan 98

Jan 99

Labor Force




Employed Persons



Employment Rate




Unemployed Persons



Unemployment Rate




Underemployed Persons



Underemployment Rate




Not in the Labor Force



Source: DOLE


The quality of employment gets buried in labor force indicators since the quantification of contractualization and other flexible working arrangements is not reflected there.

Labor-only contracting, for one, has become rampant despite its being illegal under the Labor Code. This is the reason why there are now pending bills in Congress that seeks to amend or revise the Labor Code to facilitate flexi-hiring schemes for local and foreign investors.

Latest statistics on closure and retrenchment of establishments show that 22,739 workers have been displaced from January to February 1999. Of this number, 8,098 workers were permanently laid off while 7,924 workers experienced temporary layoff. The remaining 6,726 workers were subjected to job rotation or reduced working time.

This means that 385 workers were affected everyday during the first two months of 1999 by the closure or retrenchment of establishments due to economic reasons.

It may be recalled that for the whole of 1998, 155,198 workers (or 425 workers everyday) were displaced due to economic reasons.

The situation does not end here, as the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reports that another 3,029 workers are expected to be laid off from March 1 to July 31, "based on advance notices of termination filed by 171 establishments."

Indeed, job security and the protection of workers� rights are also major concerns of Filipino labor at present.

It is important to note at this point that in a situation where neoliberalism has become the blueprint for the government, wages and other labor arrangements become market-oriented and flexible.

According to a 1995 study of the World Bank entitled "Workers in an Integrating World," wage flexibility is "the key to sectoral employment adjustment and can reduce the decline in aggregate employment." Simply put, letting the capitalists decide on how much to give their workers would result in having more people willing to partake of the crumbs out of desperation.

The same World Bank study argues that social assistance and family benefits for workers "need to be cut back on fiscal grounds." In its view, wage subsidies are also "expensive and often risky, (since it) can risk undermining (market-oriented) reforms."

So what can workers expect on May 1 (Labor Day) and beyond? Practically nothing.

Employers argue that for now, workers have to make do with low wages due to the "economic slump." In a recent TV interview, a representative of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) even stressed that workers should have a choice between "low wages or no job at all."

Based on government pronouncements, it appears that the Estrada administration is singing the same tune. Notwithstanding media statements that wage hikes are being studied by the government, Estrada is quick to comment that any wage hike at this point may "scare away investors."

This is not much of a surprise, since prior to his assumption into office, Estrada already stressed that labor unions must "moderate their demands for wage increases so the country can maintain its comparative advantage in labor costs."

Low wages, along with other antilabor policies, are inherent in the government�s agenda for "development."

Notwithstanding the fact that wages are barely enough to ensure a person�s survival, government still accommodates the interests of the moneyed few as they decide where to invest and what resources to exploit.

Given all these, nothing much can be expected from the administration�s Comprehensive Employment Program 1999-2004 (CEP), as well as the Presidential Task Force on Labor Policy, since they all operate within the neoliberal framework that has put the workers in the quagmire of poverty, exploitation and oppression.

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